Loneliness has two technical definitions. One is to feel sadness because one does not have friends or company. Another one is the quality of being unfrequented and remote; isolation. However, if you ask the wife of a pastor to define it, you’d have to pull up a chair and request another cup of coffee. Her definition would expand upon more than you bargained for. It’s the weirdest thing to have a church full of “friends” and yet spend holidays in a vast expanse of loneliness. It’s mind-boggling to many outside of the church to comprehend how their perception of the joyful, bubbly pastor’s wife who meets and greets with ease is actually longing for a true friend of her own. But the fact of the matter is, it’s a lonely place to be in as the Pastor of the church, and sometimes even more so as his wife.
I recently took Lysa TerKeurst’s book “Uninvited” to a child’s sporting event. One of the other mothers from town saw the book and read the subtitle out loud, “Living loved when you feel less than, left out, and lonely”. She stated her surprise that I’d need to read such a book. Ya know with all those people around me all the time, she was just sure I didn’t understand loneliness. “I’m sure you get invited to every event, do you have to turn many down?” I wanted to ask her back “When have YOU invited me to anything?” but knew it would serve no real purpose. The truth is, everyone assumes you’ve been invited to everything and so in turn, no one invites you to anything. And what hurts even worse is when they don’t care if you’ve been left out, they just simply don’t want to hang out with the pastor and his wife.
This kind of hurt from rejection does a number on anyone. Add in the heart that a pastor’s wife has to wear on her shirt sleeve and it expands the realm of hurt to the nth degree. You may think I’m writing this to the church member, and as helpful as that article would be to teach how one can love on their pastor and his wife… my heart feels tugged in the other direction.
I’d like to, instead, encourage the pastor’s wife to build a bridge and be very careful not to burn one.
There is a cycle that presents itself here. The pastor’s wife ventures out, becomes vulnerable, and reaches out to every person that comes in her church. She desires for that person to feel the love of Christ and she wears that responsibility of showing it heavy on her shoulders. So she’s inviting, encouraging, and ultimately drained. What does she need when she’s drained? Outside of Jesus himself, she needs a friend. And logically we’d assume she’d find a friend among all those she’s been pouring herself out to. However, she’s not met with an invite to Girls Night Out, or a cup of coffee… or even included in simple conversations. In turn, her heart breaks. That broken heart begins to build a callous. That callous tells her to withdraw. The more she withdraws the less she reaches out. She guards herself and what she may do with those she reaches out to. The vulnerability is gone. She then puts on the act of reaching out. So the motions are still moving ahead at full speed. The smile is plastered on, and can even appear real, but the heart is hard. She still welcomes, prays over, and stands in the circles, but she feels so far outside of it that it only solidifies the lonely feeling.
The cycle doesn’t stop there. Because the act is not the REAL “her”, people begin to notice. And so what little inclusion did happen becomes less and less. The church members stop seeing her as approachable and wedge her out more and more. This cycle is devastating. It hinders the ministry God intended for us to have, and it makes a very REAL ministry turn fake and counterfeit.
Pastor wife, I’m praying so hard as I type these words that you’ll break that cycle. I can’t promise that breaking it will not add you to girls night out invites. It may not prompt someone to pick up the phone just to gab about girl stuff. It probably won’t take the intimidation out of the minds of others, but it will bring you so much joy if you can build a bridge with those in your church and break the cycle of burning them.
I’d imagine that no one was more lonely than Paul in the midst of his very successful ministry. Sitting in solitary confinement for doing the ministry he was called to do may feel very similar to what we feel we go through at times. But look at what Paul did in 2 Timothy 4. He states that everyone has abandoned him but the LORD stays with him. He is never alone with God. And because of that closeness with God, Paul was able to continue preaching the gospel in his loneliest moments. He ends saying “All Glory to God…” (verse 18). He praises God for the ministry set before him even as he faces such suffering.
No one is saying that the loneliness isn’t hurtful, that it’s easy, or that it won’t bother us. But God says in His Word that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will never uninvite us to His table. With that knowledge, we can build a bridge to the hurting in our churches. We can reach out and build a bridge into the lives of those needing a friend, even if we don’t have many ourselves.
It is so easy to assume they don’t want to be our friends as we look through our isolation. But when we build a wall we shut down the ministry and push ourselves (and them) further from the friendships we so eagerly desire.
Paul’s desire is not far from ours, “That I might preach the Good news in all its fullness for all the Gentiles to hear.” (2 Tim 4:17b). Even while he was facing the biggest abandonment of his life Paul was thinking of those God loved and chose him to minister to.
Choose to reach out, choose to be vulnerable, choose to invite all you can in to feel the love of God in that personal way that you have. Worship in the midst, let God fill that void, and keep on serving, ladies!
Become active on the Pastors’ Wives pages through Facebook [start with The Pastor Wife Facebook Group!], find a like-minded wife that you can chat with privately… and if things persist, don’t hesitate to find a Christian counselor to talk things over. But most importantly, lean on God, the one who gave you this lonely ministry and be encouraged to know that He will never leave you nor forsake you. You were the exact person for the ministry set before you. Reach out, love on, and encourage throughout. You are strong and courageous and are taken care of by the Great Caregiver.